Finding a Job in the Informal Job Market

Remember your senior year in college? If it was a good one, maybe you don’t remember much. However, at some point you started looking for a job. If I were a betting man, I’d guess you did a few of the following:

  1. Visit career sites like or
  2. OR maybe you knew those sites were black holes and visited a site with slightly less traffic like thinking you were outsmarting the others.
  3. Search by general terms like “finance” or “sales.”
  4. Briefly scan the actual job description and focus on salary and requirements. Who cares what the job does if it pays well?
  5. Address your generic cover letter to “Whom it may concern” or “Human Resources.”
  6. Click submit and repeat half a dozen times per day.
  7. Play video games and beer pong while you wait for your phone to ring.

That’s how most of us, myself included, used to apply for jobs. What I just described to you is called the formal job market. And believe it or not, some of us are still trying to find jobs this way (minus the beer pong).

But what if I told you that only 20% of jobs get filled this way?

The Informal Job Market

Despite government’s best efforts at bankrupting our country to lower unemployment, it remains a rock solid 9.1%. Throw in the other folks working part-time wishing they had full-time work, plus the people working at a job they hate, but are too afraid to leave and that figure increases dramatically.

This post originates from an article I read on Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Workweek blog. It was a guest post written by Michael Ellsburg, author of the book The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think and It’s Not Too Late. He describes the informal job market as “all jobs that are not filled through someone responding to a job advertisement. Usually, these are jobs that are filled through relationships.”

More gold from Michael here:

Either there is a position at the firm that needs to be filled, and an employee at the firm knows someone who’s qualified. Or, the firm wants to bring a specific person they know to join the team, and they create a position for that person out of thin air. If you do some Googling on the informal job market, you’ll learn something shocking: according to various estimates (on CNNCBSMSNBC, and NPR) somewhere around 80% of jobs get filled informally. In other words, only 20% of jobs get filled through people responding to job ads (the primary method of job seeking most people do).

So, how does the 80% of hiring that occurs in the informal job market actually happen? The way Eben did it: by building up a professional relationship with people within the organization doing the hiring, long before the hire is made.

Connections. Referrals. Knowing people who know people.

This means that, in the vastly larger informal job market, human relationships and a solid network are far more important than GPA figures on a resume.

The 80/20 rule is back. 80% of us are trying to find jobs in the formal job market, which produces just 20% of the hires. What if you focused your search where 80% of the hires are made and the competition is much, much less?

What Should I do?

To get started with your job search, tell everyone you know you’re looking for a job. The more specific you are about what you’re looking for, the more helpful your friends and family can be.

Second, find 4- 5 companies you’d like to work for, then work backwards. Study up on them. What are their needs? Are they struggling with anything? Usually we search for the job first, and the company is secondary. Sounds kind of backwards, don’t you think? We should put at least equal weight on the place we’ll be spending 50 hours a week at for the next few years.

Third, what are your skills? How can you help these companies? Before you meet with anyone, watch this video by Ramit Sethi where he describes his briefcase technique.

Fourth, use your network to get your foot in the door with someone at these companies. Linked In is huge asset for this. Somehow, someway get in front of a player you can prove yourself too. Buy them coffee, a beer, lunch – something. Then form a relationship with them.

Remember:  People love talking about themselves. Showing a little interest goes a long way.

Finally, make sure you stay in touch.  Even if they don’t have something at that moment, stay in contact by sharing articles they might find interesting and give updates on cool projects you’re working on. They may refer you to friends who have openings at their companies.

The MBA and MA are BS

There is value in the MBA and a Master’s degrees, if you’re doing it for the right reason. Getting an MBA so you’ll be qualified for jobs is not the right reason though.

Let’s think about this for a second.  Check out this “basic qualification” I found in job description:

“MBA degree – Top Tier school preferred”

If you see similar requirements over and over again it’s natural to think you need one. But guess how much an MBA at Columbia costs?


Gulp. That is a lot of money for one bullet point in a job description.

This is another big reason the informal job market is so important. Going back to Michael’s article, he says this:

So let’s get clear about one thing. Saying that a BA and MA is “required” to do a certain job is BS. These degrees are not actually required to do the job well. Rather, they serve as convenient screening tools for recruiters needing to wade through piles of cold resumes on the formal job market. That’s it, nothing more.

Your entire multi-year, six-figure education is reduced to a simple check-mark used to get past impatient screeners on the other end of a Craigslist ad.

For a person seeking a job or economic opportunity, this whole system of job screening is wildly inefficient.

What if instead, you focused on the informal job market, which is vastly larger and more accessible (especially if you learn some basic networking skills)?

People like to give economic opportunities to people they know and trust. Requirements be damned.

Right or wrong, men tie a lot of their worth to their jobs. It gives us a sense of purpose, and when a job is taken away part of our pride goes with it. This shouldn’t really be the case, but if it is you may as well do something you care about. An informal job search can get you there.

I admit it’s tough out there, and if you have a mortgage and family it’s harder to think about leaving a job you hate. And it sure seems like it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But recessions our cyclical and we’ve been through them before, and we’ll go through them again. Think for a minute though about the person you will be in 20 years.

Will the older you be happy you got scared in a tough job market and blew $150K on a degree to avoid job hunting in a bad economy? Or you stayed at that crappy job just because you were too afraid to leave the security of your current one?

What’s the worst that can happen? You get fired six months after joining your new company? Not only is that highly unlikely, but by reading this post and Michael’s article as well as your own research, you have a leg up on 80% of job hunters for your next search.

Think about what you’ll feel in 20 years as opposed to what you’re feeling now. It will probably change your decision-making. At the end of the day, we are responsible for our own careers and the income we make. We can go about it like everyone else and be average, or we can be anything but.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions on this post and any other job tips you can share with Ag readers. I’m also happy to help with your own search in any way I can. Again, you can read the article by Michael Ellsberg here.



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Read to Succeed

One of my favorite activities of late is taking our puppy, Dixie, for long walks at night around the Upper East Side.  Particularly the cross streets between Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue.

It’s nice to look into the apartments and townhouses (not in a weird, creepy way) and catch a glimpse of these beautiful homes. Homes I someday hope to  live in if I work hard and create enough value for others. Dixie already seems comfortable on Park Ave based on her strut and interactions with fellow dogs.

After doing this for a couple of weeks it became obvious one characteristic in which all these homes share.

They have bookshelves. Filled with lots of books.

Now we may not need bookshelves in 10 years with the Kindle and Nook, but that’s not what this article is about. It’s about a simple observation with huge implications. Let’s work with the assumption that residents on Park Avenue have achieved success in at least two areas of life: financial and career. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have great relationships or are happy, but odds are they’re doing well in at least those two.

Brian Tracy is fond of saying if you want to increase your income, then you should increase your knowledge intake. And all it takes is one hour a day. From Brian:

Go Through 50 Books Per Year
If you read one hour per day in your field, that will translate into about one book per week. One book per week translates into about 50 books per year. 50 books per year will translate into about 500 books over the next ten years.

It’s hard to imagine anyone is reading 50 books a year, period. Here is the rest of the article where Brian also discusses joining the Top 1% of Money Earners.

We have been taught since we were little how important it is to read books, but according to an article written by the Associated Press, 1 in 4 adults didn’t read a book in 2007. Of those who did read, women and older people were the most avid. Men were nowhere to be found.

You might be thinking to yourself:

Well I may not read books, but I still read all the time.

I completely believe you because I feel the same way. Every day I read news articles and opinion pieces online, blog posts in my Google Reader, newspapers and lots and lots of magazines. At one point, I had subscriptions to the following: The Economist, Success, Consumer Reports, Men’s Health, Money and Foreign Policy (nerd alert). If I didn’t have some self-control I might have 30 magazine subscriptions now.

All of that reading leaves little time for a good book. And after three years of this routine, what do I have to show for it? To be honest, not much. Recently, I wrote a post on the 80/20 rule. The principle applies here because most of us spend 80% of our time reading content online and from magazines. Throw in Facebook updates, instant messages and tweets, and we spend 20% of the time reading books if we’re lucky.

John Maxwell says in this clip that the greatest influence on his life was the books he read.

I write books because the greatest influence on my life were the books that I read. Books have formed me, who I am today, how I think, what I feel. They have all been formed by what I have read.

Books help us learn more because we’re reading about a certain topic in detail, instead of a six or seven paragraph blog post. Even fiction books offer learning experiences.

What would happen if we flipped the ratio and read books 80% of the time? It won’t guarantee I’ll end up on Fifth Avenue or you’ll become CEO of your company, but it’s a start. I can assure you the smartest people I know read a lot of books. And 50 books in one year is a lot. I have since cut my subscriptions to magazines down and only read The Economist and Success. My goal to read 25 books over the next 12 months at least. I’d love for you to join me and share your thoughts in the comments.

To get you started, Esquire put together a list of the 75 books every man should read. Enjoy.


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Steve Jobs

A gentleman who was anything but average.



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Simplify Your Workout

US Marine recruits performing push-ups: in pro...

Image via Wikipedia

After working out consistently for the last 15 years, I started to get bored and little burnt out. So, last year I took up long distance running and ran my first half-marathon last year at the Saratoga Palio (1:46) in Saratoga Springs, NY.

That helped with my cardio, but I lost serious interest in lifting weights. That’s a problem because one of the best ways to burn fat is through strength training. Plus 30 is around the corner and weights become more critical as guys get older.

Check this out from Body Logic MD:

Every year between the ages of 25 and 60, the physically inactive male will lose muscle mass and muscle strength at a rate of .5% and although this number may seem low, it adds up quickly. After the age of 60, male muscle loss doubles to about 1% every year. After 70, muscle mass and muscle strength declines by 2% every year. This doubling continues every ten years until death.

And from

Studies suggest that men lose five pounds of muscle per decade after the age of 40 due to reduced levels of human growth hormone (HGH). According to those harrowing numbers, by the age of 60, most men will have 80% less HGH in their system than when they were 20.

Here are some examples of workouts I’ve done for the last decade:

1.  Upper Body / Lower Body (alternating cardio days in between)

2.  Day 1 – Chest/tri’s, Day 2 – Shoulders/Legs, Day 3 – Bi’s / Back (repeat)

3 sets, 12 reps for each exercise.  Or heavy weight, low reps if I was trying to really bulk up. 

3.  Full body workout:  Chest, tri’s, bi’s, shoulders, back and legs all in one session.

So what does a guy who is a little burnt out from the status quo and has less time to workout do?  Strip his workout down to the basics.

For the last four weeks, I have only done 4-5 exercises during my strength training. I write them down on a sticky note with a target number for each one. So instead of saying:  “I’m going to do 3 sets of 12,” I say “I’m going to do 150 push ups today” and break it down from there. If I can’t fit it on a sticky note, I’m doing too much.

Check out my workout from Monday:

160 push ups (sets of 10)

50 pull-ups (using a machine at this point) (sets of 10)

100 bicep curls (sets of 20)

200 sit ups (crunches, planks, bicycle kicks, etc.) (sets of 25)

100 body squats (sets of 25)

I also threw in some jump rope (five sets, 30 seconds each). I essentially do non-stop circuits while occasionally stopping for water. This way I’m done in 30-40 minutes and get a great workout in. If I am busier one day, then I just lower the counts.

My numbers have increased though.  For example, a month ago I only did 100 push ups. Monday I hit 160 for the first time. My goal is to do 50 push ups in a row and 200 overall by the end of October. On my current pace, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Last week I mixed it up and did the bench press instead of push ups. I benched 40 pounds more than I did three weeks earlier. It was also fun because I hadn’t done it in a while.

This all stemmed from a workout I did with a couple of buddies recently (@jlicciardi is one) who are hardcore crossfitters. I loved the simplicity and practicality of it. We finished in about 25 minutes, but I was sweating and sucking wind big time.

So if you find yourself in a workout rut, maybe you’re doing too much. Evaluate what you can cut out and simplify your workout. There are so many options and techniques these days, sometimes it’s best to stick with the basics. Try it out and let me know how you do in the comments, or if you have other ideas please share those as well.

Now if I can just nail down my eating…



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In for a Penny

Last week I finished a book called In for a Penny by Peter Hargreaves. Peter discusses how he started Hargreaves Lansdown, an investment firm, in the United Kingdom with his partner Stephen Lansdown. Through the ups and downs there are some lessons that all businesspeople can benefit from.

Here are the key takeaways that warranted my highlighter:

Hargreaves Lansdown

Image via Wikipedia

  • Put the client first, the business second and yourself third.
  • If anything is too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
  • Be wary of people who are flash with their money.
  • On investing:  When the news is widely known, it is always too late to sell. Investors are prone to chasing past performance, forgetting that what matters is the future, not the past. Markets reflect what analysts think the economic situation will be in two or three years time, not what it is today.
  • The squeaky wheel gets the oil.  The more fuss you make the more attention you will get. This is important when dealing with vendors.
  • If you are sending the same letter or email to a large amount of people, divide the time you spend on the contents by the number of people you intend sending it to. You can’t spend too long getting such a letter right.
  • Secret to a good day’s work in business is to ask yourself two questions:  “Which task do I least want to do today?” and “Who do I least want to speak to today?” Then first thing in the morning get the guy you don’t want to speak to on the phone and deal with everything you have to talk to him about, however unpleasant it may be. Immediately afterwards do the ask you least want to do.
  • On writing marketing literature:  Never talk about yourself, concentrate on the reader. Don’t waste time introducing your service, telling people who you are and what you are doing.  People are just not interested. Tell them what you will do for them, how you will do it and how they will benefit.
  • When going into business:  everything is negotiable. Anyone who pays the asking price for anything, especially in your early years of business, is mad.
  • Competition is good for business. It makes you sharper.
  • Never give up attempting to improve everything you do, whether it’s marketing, research, administration, client calls, staff training and product or service quality.
  • Only recruit when the existing staff are so overworked that they will accept anyone new. Only move offices when you are already heaving at the seams. People hate change, but are much more ready to accept it when they are desperate.
  • You can always have too much of a good thing.
  • In business, never call anyone by their first name until you are invited to do so.
  • Many large companies go wrong in the following:  they start a new venture and say they’ll give it two years even though it becomes apparent after the first six months that it will never make a profit – they stick with it anyway.
  • Anyone in business should constantly be campaigning to abolish all meetings. Meetings stop people from doing their jobs (love this one).
  • If all monopolies are bad, state-run monopolies are the worst.
  • Produce advertising in house and make sure you are offering the customer something they want.
  • It is important not to give people grand sounding titles.
  • The best phone call a boss can make is a call to his own firm to see what happens.
  • If the boss won’t get his hands dirty, you can guarantee that the foot soldiers won’t either.
  • Everyone on your staff should always be ready to ask the question “why?”
  • Where there is trouble, there is always business to be done.
  • On handling complaints from customers: Never, ever tell the customer what you are going to do. Because they will inevitably deem it insufficient. The best thing to do is ask what they would like to see the establishment do to make them happy. They will usually ask for something less than you were prepared to suggest yourself.
  • Turn your business on its head once every two years.
  • Management consultants are a waste of money. They extract your people’s own ideas and put them into a long report as if the ideas were their own. In a good firm, the good ideas will already have been implemented.
  • As a boss you must never forget that your staff are the most important part of your business.
  • You can always tell when you are dealing with a great business, as they will try to negotiate you into the ground.
If you liked these and are interested in learning more, buy the book here.
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Are You Training Yourself to Fail?

I read this really good article by Peter Bregman last week called Are You Training Yourself to Fail? on the Harvard Business Review blog. It hit home with me and probably will with you too.

In it Peter talks about how it’s rare to find the person who is naturally pre-disposed to being highly effective. Most of us start our day with a long and ambitious to do list of the important tasks we hope to accomplish. Unfortunately we get busy with email, phone calls and errands so very little gets done. We then get discouraged and do things to make us feel better for the moment like browse the internet – often about articles on being more effective.

We do the same thing over and over relying on sheer will power, which yields the same result each day.

From Peter:

Here’s the thing: the odds are against us getting our most important priorities accomplished. Our instincts most often drive us toward instant gratification. And the world around us conspires to lure us off task. Given total freedom, most of us would spend far too much time browsing websites and eating sweets. And being totally responsive to our environments would just have us running around like crazy catering to other people’s agendas.

For me, the allure of accomplishing lots of little details would often override my focus on the big things I value. Each morning I would try to change my natural tendency by exerting self-control. I would talk to myself about how, starting this morning, I would be more focused, psych myself up to have a productive day, and commit to myself that I wouldn’t do any errands until the important work was done.

It almost never worked. Certainly not reliably.

By doing this, we are teaching ourselves to fail. Failure is fine as long as we learn, but what happens if we keep doing the same things, hoping for different results but not changing our behavior?

Then we are training ourselves to fail repeatedly.

Because the more we continue to make the same mistakes, the more we ingrain the ineffective behaviors into our lives. Our failures become our rituals, our rituals become our habits, and our habits become our identity. We no longer experience an unproductive day; we become unproductive people.

The only way to break the trend, according to Peter, is to develop new rituals.  To do this we need trial and error. Each night take a look at what worked and repeat it the next day.  Look at what didn’t work and stop it.

What I found is that rather than trying to develop super-human discipline and focus, I needed to rely on a process to make it more likely that I would be focused and productive and less likely that I would be scattered and ineffective.

Rituals like these: Spending five minutes in the morning to place my most important work onto my calendar, stopping every hour to ask myself whether I’m sticking to my plan, and spending five minutes in the evening to learn from my successes and failures. Answering my emails in chunks at predetermined times during the day instead of whenever they come in. And never letting anything stay on my to do list for more than three days (after which I either do it immediately, schedule it in my calendar, or delete it).

It doesn’t take long for these rituals to become habits and for the habits to become your identity. And then, you become a productive person.

Once you develop these rituals, don’t let up. Anyone can be productive for a day, week or month. However, if you get in a groove and stop these rituals you’ll be right back to where you were when you started. Productivity is similar to losing weight. It takes awhile to become productive, but you becoming unproductive again is very quick.

Check out the full article here.  Peter also created a quiz to test how well you manage complexity.  My score was pretty bad.  How about you?  Take the quiz here and let me know how you did in the comments.


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How Bad Do You Want It?

“When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.”

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